Religious holidays have always been a strange place for me. My first church was decidedly not on board with any of them, except Thanksgiving and 4th of July (see what I did there), to some extent. Thanksgiving was a “Puritan” holiday, and we went all out in honor of it. Christmas was not celebrated, and Easter certainly wasn’t – both in their eyes claiming pagan origins, and we shouldn’t eat meat offered to idols, etc. I don’t really care to get into that – there’s good, godly folks on both sides of those lines, and that’s on your conscience before God which side or the other you fall on in that discussion.
For me, the issue goes a bit deeper, in that I feel very much disconnected to the spirit of these holidays, no matter their origins or practice.
“Merry Christmas!” comes as easy to my lips as a banana. Bananas are gross. I’m thinking specifically of Easter today, because, well, it’s Easter. “He is risen!”, and the well-known response “He is risen indeed!” puts me right in Zacharias’ shoes. Struck dumb. The music, the trappings, the decorations, the liturgy, the happy people and smiles and the Easter family photos just leave me empty inside. Maybe it’s because I have no good memories with any of that. Maybe it’s because half my family is largely estranged for all religious purposes, and have been for quite a few years now. Maybe I’m a grump. Maybe years of spiritual abuse has left me cold, cynical, dead, and incapable of feeling anything in community – that’s certainly true sometimes, I think, if I’m honest. Maybe I’m tired of seeing a thousand Easter selfies of well-dressed families that for some reason bear the caption “He is risen!” What does my appearance have to do with the resurrection?
Whatever the cause, that’s where I’m at. So I wasn’t looking forward to today, like I never am anyway.
We sung a song this morning. I’d never heard it before, that I know of. It’s called “I Will Rise”, by Chris Tomlin. The chorus goes like this:
I will rise when He calls my Name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God, fall on my knees
I will rise
Pretty standard Easter fare. Wallowing in my apathy though, I looked over and saw a family in the church we attend sitting together and singing along. Collectively they have more life-threatening health issues they live with than I could name. The daughter attends church wearing a face mask to guard against allergens. In many ways, life itself is misery for them.
I realised that the resurrection means something to these folks, and others like them. Faith. Faith that this isn’t it, that they didn’t draw the short straw from birth and their lot in life is to pass it in pain and misery and physical dysfunction and medical bills till death ends it all in an unconscious void. To not say with Job that it would be better that they’d never been born – certainly it would be more merciful.
But no, they will rise.
It might be easy for me to say that this is it, that there’s no life after death. I’m a healthy, middle-aged, well-to-do, white guy with a wife and a house and a career, and no hardship to speak of so far. If this is it, that ain’t half bad. But that don’t fly for everyone. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words on how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. On the flip side, the resurrection is for the broken, the marginalized, the hurt, the ones who’ve given all, or had it all taken from them. They understand it like no one else.
It might not be my lot in life to go through what that family bears daily, but by choosing fellowship with their suffering, and helping bear theirs and others’ burdens, I might just begin to understand Easter and the resurrection, myself.